The ’Eaters stymied the Wolves, sending them back with their tails between their legs.
The UC Irvine men’s basketball team (1-0) made a big opening statement on Saturday evening at the Bren with an impressive, 78-64 victory over a Nevada Wolf Pack (0-1) team that finished with a 28-7 record last season and advanced to the quarter finals of the NIT. It was the first time the Anteaters had defeated the Wolf Pack in the team’s last eight meetings.
Senior Daman Starring led all scorers with 25 points on 33 minutes of play, shooting 7-15 from the field and 10-10 from the free-throw line. It was a career-high for Starring, who rose to the challenge and outperformed Nevada’s talented Deonte Burton and Malik Story. Two hours before game time, Starring was on the floor by himself, working on his shot in preparation for his big night.
“I came out with a mindset that I needed to be more of a scorer,” said Starring. “Coach [Russell] Turner has told me that he wants me to be more of a scorer this year, so I’m trying to do a better job of that.”
Overall, it was a solid all-around offensive effort by the Anteaters, who only turned the ball over eight times as a team. Two Anteaters scored in double-figures, including senior forward Mike Wilder and freshman guard Alex Young. Wilder notched his first double-double of the season, bringing down a team-high 11 rebounds to go along with his 12 points, while Alex Young contributed huge minutes off the bench for Coach Turner on his way to a 12-point night.
Nevada struggled to contain the UCI big men off the boards and defensively on the interior. Irvine dominated the glass against Nevada, 51-37, with 21 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. Extra possessions were critical in the Anteaters’ victory, especially late in the game when they were able to take additional time off the clock.
Nevada’s only leads came in the first two minutes of the first half, with the last one coming at the 18:38 mark with UCI trailing 5-4. After a Derrick Flowers missed layup, forward Will Davis II tipped the ball into the basket, giving Irvine their first lead of the game — one that they wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the game.
For the most part, the first half of the game was a fast-paced, up-and-down battle, with both teams responding to one another’s punches. The Anteaters increased their lead to double-digits for the first time at the eight-minute mark in part to a 15-7 run that gave them a 27-17 advantage. Nevada responded with a 14-6 run of their own, coming within two points of the lead four minutes before the half. During that span, the Wolf Pack defense stymied the Anteaters with a full-court press that troubled the UCI guards. The Anteaters, however, recovered quickly and closed the half off on an 8-4 run, giving them a 41-35 lead at intermission.
Despite having a higher shooting percentage at half, Nevada trailed Irvine because of the Anteaters’ stellar interior defense. John Ryan, Adam Folker and Will Davis II anchored the defense by altering nearly all of Nevada’s shots around the basket and forcing their guards to get rid of the ball out to the perimeter, where the Wolf Pack went 1-8 from the three-point line.
The Anteaters raced out of the locker room in the second half with a 17-4 run that gave them a 19-point lead at the 12:57 mark — their biggest of the game. They would lead by double-digits for the majority of the second half, but were never able to put Nevada completely away. The Wolf Pack chipped away at the Anteater lead and managed to get within nine points of the lead with 4:35 left on the clock. Irvine, however, ultimately proved to be too much for Nevada on the defensive end. Fueled by the efforts of Derick Flowers and Alex Young, the Anteaters were able to limit last year’s Western Athletic Conference player of the year, Deonte Burton, to eight points on 2-8 shooting.
“Defensively we did really well tonight and that was big,” said Starring. “The whole team focused in on [Burton]. He was our main priority. Coach Turner told us before the game, ‘I want to make sure that when he leaves here, he says all five guys were guarding him.’”
The Anteaters now have their sights set on their biggest challenge of their young season. On Tuesday, they will travel up the 405 to the new Pauley Pavilion to take on the UCLA Bruins. If the Anteaters are able to duplicate their performance from tonight on both sides of the floor by limiting turnovers and locking down defensively, they have a chance to make an even bigger statement by upsetting the #13-ranked team in the nation.